Full Time, Off Tenure Track

Survey suggests that adjuncts who work at one institution full time have job satisfaction levels close to those on the tenure track.

September 29, 2015

Non-tenure-track, full-time faculty tend to like, and dislike, their jobs about as much as their tenure-track and tenured colleagues do, according to a new study published in the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives.

As nontenured positions continue their steady growth, authors Molly Ott and Jesus Cisneros point out, little research exists examining the work lives and job satisfaction of these professors. And some of what is out there may wrongly rely on a conception of nontenured faculty members as transient laborers rather than professionals with a link to an institution. Ott is assistant professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. Cisneros is assistant professor of college student personnel services and administration at the University of Central Arkansas.

“Our results suggest being removed from the tenure track is not associated with faculty viewing their jobs in a substantially different (or inferior) way than those in tenure-line positions,” they write to sum up their findings. “Generally, we found full-time [non-tenure-track] faculty share common views of their jobs and working conditions with tenure-line faculty.”

Ott and Cisneros, in "Understanding the Changing Faculty Workforce in Higher Education: A Comparison of Non-Tenure-Track and Tenure-Line Experiences," begin with the assumption that all full-time faculty members -- on the tenure track or not -- "share common attributes and experiences that influence their job outcomes."

They drew data from a 2011-12 survey conducted by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Of the 28,968 full-time (nontenured, tenure-track and tenured) faculty surveyed at four-year institutions, 49 percent, or 14,323, responded. By examining their satisfaction with common job attributes like “collegiality” and “autonomy,” Ott and Cisneros found nontenured and tenure-track faculty agreed more often than not about what they are and aren’t satisfied with, and how committed they are to their college.

None of the three groups reported differences in their satisfaction with institutional resources provided to support their work, for example. Same with satisfaction with feedback and effectiveness of mentoring.

That’s not to say there were no differences. Tenured faculty reported far less satisfaction with their salary and benefits than the other two categories. And non-tenure-track faculty reported significantly less satisfaction with the sense of collegiality in their departments, confirming, the authors say, a longstanding charge that nontenured faculty often feel like “second-class citizens.”

Still, the non-tenure-track respondents also reported the greatest level of commitment to their colleges, with 86 percent saying that, were they to do it all over again, they would still accept the job they have. That’s more than both pretenure professors, at 83 percent, and tenured professors, at 78 percent.

Looking at these data, it’s important to keep a number of distinctions in mind, said Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority. This study only includes nontenured faculty who work full time at a four-year college or university, and “we know even with the lack of available data that these are some of the better contingent positions out there.” Better, she said, than the part-time contingent positions at those universities or even full-time contingent positions at community colleges. “I would be cautious about drawing too many conclusions.”

Ott and Cisneros acknowledge that limitation in the study, but Maisto said it’s important to distinguish between satisfaction in and outside the classroom. “If you’re just talking about the work in the classroom with students, that gives enormous satisfaction or people wouldn’t do it,” she said. The rest of the job is another story.


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